Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Materials coordinating council established

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 18 - February 2, 1995

The Commission on Research (COR) has approved a resolution to establish the University Coordinating Council on Materials Research and Education, and has passed a resolution defining a new conflict-of-interest policy.

In presenting the materials-council resolution, Jim Wightman said, "The university community recognizes the role materials research plays on campus." A handout defined the council's charge as "To facilitate new and emerging opportunities in materials science and engineering; enhance the pursuit of large grant/contract proposals; ... enhance publicity of materials research and education at Virginia Tech; and coordinate activities as necessary among the various materials science and engineering related centers, departments, and programs."

The council reports to the vice provost for research and is reviewed by the Commission on Research. Council members are the associate deans for research in Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Forestry and Wildlife; director of the agricultural experiment station or associate dean for research in Agriculture and Life Sciences; associate dean for research in either Human Resources or Veterinary Medicine; associate provost for research; department heads from materials science and engineering and two additional departments; director of the materials engineering science doctoral program; two center or institute directors, and four faculty members.

The council chair will be elected from the center/institute directors and faculty members. Joe Schetz said he "would like to see some covenant that whatever the university defines as a coordinating council will apply retroactively to this council, even if it means restructuring this council."

COR chair Janet Johnson said the comment was timely since the commission will be discussing the definitions and structures of centers, institutes, and councils. The vote for the resolution was unanimous, as was the vote on the conflict-of-interest policy.

The policy requires researchers to indicate, when they submit a proposal for research, whether or not there is any conflict of interest, such as partial ownership of a business for whom research would be carried out.

There was discussion regarding whether the department head must sign the conflict-disclosure form after an initial refusal has resulted in referral to the dean to resolve a difference of opinion between the faculty member and the department head about whether there is a conflict. It was decided that such cases would be resolved by all parties--the dean, the faculty member, and the department head--before the proposal proceeds.

Schetz questioned whether the final signature on all of the disclosure forms from the vice provost for research wouldn't be perfunctory. Joe Merola said that NSF guidelines require that all disclosures must go to one place for final approval. Len Peters said, "The vice provost is certifying agreement with the department head....It can't be perfunctory approval because ultimately he is certifying (the disclosure) is true." "Based on the word of the PI," said Mark Smith. "Do you expect the department head to check to make sure there is no conflict?" Peters said that only in a few cases will there be a question.

Merola said there will be an education program so that a faculty member does not check the `no conflict' box when that is not appropriate. It is the department heads' responsibility to inform researchers regarding what is meant by a conflict of interest. "I think in 99 percent of the cases, department heads know whether there is a conflict without investigating," Peters said. "We know in sponsored programs where most of the potential problems are."

Merola, who chairs the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies and was co-chair of the joint committee that drafted the policy, expects CGSP to vote on the policy on February 1. The policy will then go to University Council.

In other business, Lenwood McCoy reported that Project Enable is forming a six-to-seven person team to look at the personal activity reporting system (PARS), in order to improve it. PARS documents changes to sponsored projects and "surveys out" indirect costs. Rhoda Myers will be team leader. McCoy asked the COR to suggest a faculty member and an administrator for the team. McCoy also offered to meet with departments regarding indirect costs.